WiMax will be Wi-Fi’s big brother, says Intel

9 Jun 2009

The introduction of WiMax this year, with a theoretical distance for high-speed broadband over 5km, will be vital in cities, towns and the countryside where DSL has been a failure.

At a demo of the WiMax platform that will be rolled out in Ireland in the coming months by Imagine, Colin MacHale, a spokesman for Intel said that WiMax – “effectively the bigger brother to Wi-Fi” – will take Ireland a step closer to universal broadband coverage.

“It is terrible to think that an individual in Dublin or in the country can’t get broadband and their neighbour can because of split lines. Even in built-up urban areas of Ireland, people can’t get access to full broadband.

“Mobile WiMax will address that,” MacHale said. “When you think about the change that Centrino brought with Wi-Fi, now Wi-Fi base stations are so prolific in public places and homes.”

MacHale said the WiMax routers that will enter the marketplace shortly will be stylish and discreet, but are capable of interacting with base stations up to 5km away. Not only that, but each router will contain a Wi-Fi radio capable of broadcasting broadband up to 120 feet around the home or business.

“Most people in the country are operating on a 1Mbps speed at the moment, even if they think they are paying for higher. When WiMax debuts it will do so at a speed of 2Mbps, but this will be increased. The idea is that the provider will be able to dynamically allocate resources to the WiMax box. For example, if you’re having your friends over for a gaming night and you want 10Mbps to your home, the provider can just turn it up.”

Last year, Clearwire and Sprint Nextel’s wireless broadband unit announced a merger to create a 4G WiMax network. Sprint will own 51pc of the firm, while a consortium including Comcast, Time Warner, Intel, Google and Bright House will invest US$3.2bn.

In Japan, Intel is investing US$43m in Japanese WiMax provider UQ Communications, which plans to cover 90pc of the county by 2012.

“WiMax will be a viable alternative because of the lack of proper broadband infrastructure, and it will deliver affordable broadband to users who until now couldn’t get it or were paying through the nose for it.

“Ireland has the highest line rental cost for telephony in the world. WiMax will get rid of the need for line rental.”

MacHale said that as well as devices that plug into laptop USB ports, the WiMax devices for the home only require a power outlet and can be taken with the user and plugged in anywhere else a WiMax network is up and running.

“If you have purchased a service from a carrier you will be able to get the same coverage in a different part of the country by just taking the device with you,” he said, gesturing at a slim device little bigger than a paperback book.

MacHale said that Intel is developing WiMax silicon for consumer products such as laptops with embedded WiMax functionality, as well as the base stations.

“We’re working through the WiMax Forum to ensure the standards are ratified and working. We are also working across the globe with carriers to get roaming agreements in place.”

In the US, WiMax operators will operate on the 2.4Ghz to 2.6Ghz frequency, while in Europe the frequency will be between 3.4Ghz and 3.8Ghz.

“WiMax in Ireland will get rolled out from July onwards. We have already been providing fixed WiMax for a few years now with some local schools and businesses near our Leixlip operations from a base station at Intel. The fixed technology already serves thousands of consumers across the country.

“We are convinced that mobile WiMax will solve the problem of DSL blackspots in any country,” McHale added.

Intel’s global head of sales Sean Maloney last week provided an update on recent WiMAX developments. “WiMAX is a global story; the technology is real, here today and has a 2-3 year advantage over other competing technologies,” he remarked.

“From the very beginning, we wanted to have a global, ultra-fast, low-cost wireless internet solution that would help bridge the digital divide and last mile.”

Maloney compared WiMAX to other standards-based initiatives that Intel has worked in the past such as Ethernet, USB and of course Wi-Fi.

WiMAX service providers now offer networks covering 430 million people, or POPS, globally, and are on a path to nearly double to 800 million people by end of 2010. In addition, global WiMAX network deployments are approaching 460 in more than 135 countries for fixed, portable, and mobile networks

Leading PC OEMs including Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Lenovo, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba, which have delivered or plan to deliver notebook computers with embedded WiMAX. As of today, 26 models have been certified with a total of 100 planned for the beginning of 2010.

“We are very happy with the progress we have made,” said Maloney. “Even under the current economic conditions, there is an emphasis on governments worldwide to invest reconstruction efforts on broadband.”

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Colin McHale, Intel, holding a mobile WiMax dongle